The UN Security Council can end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Here’s how.

Helena Cobban
8 min readNov 10, 2023
The UN Security Council chamber

In the past 35 days, the Israeli military has killed well over 10,000 people in Gaza. It has reduced most of Gaza City and the extensive refugee camps that surround it to barren moonscapes of rubble. Meantime, Israeli settler extremists have gone on killing and land-grabbing sprees in the occupied West Bank, with great help from the Occupation Forces there. The currently sharp intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has considerably inflamed tensions along Israel’s northern border. And the high degree of the United States’ direct and indirect involvement in Israel’s war effort, which has included dispatching two aircraft carrier battle groups, a nuclear-capable submarine and other U.S. military forces and assets to the region, has further inflamed tensions in a swathe stretching from Western Iraq through Syria and right down the Red Sea to Yemen.

This madness needs to stop!

As do the series of intense and long-unresolved political conflicts that underlie all these tensions, with at their heart the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Until recently, the idea that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might be headed toward any imminent resolution would have been quite fanciful. After all, for the past 50 years, Washington has completely dominated all attempts to broker or mediate any peace (or the absence thereof) between Israel and its various Arab neighbors. And increasingly over the past 30 years it has used that domination to bolster Israel’s position at every turn and to stymie any attempt to force Israel to comply with U.N. resolutions. As many Palestinians have commented about all the endless rounds of “negotiation” since Oslo, they seem to have been designed mainly to keep the Palestinians occupied.

It’s true that back in the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. leaders attempted to project some general semblance of “even-handedness” between the Israeli and Arab sides. But as the decades have passed since then, Washington came to abandon even any attempt to project neutrality. Today, the leaders of both the U.S. political parties are content simply to vie against each other for who can be most pro-Israeli.

Clearly, then, it is quite ridiculous for anyone else in the “international community” to think that Washington can be trusted to end the remaining strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict-that is, primarily, Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians and with Syria-on a fair and sustainable basis. And yet, most people writing today in the English language (and plenty of other languages) continue to assume that that is the case: that a U.S.-led “peace process” is really the only viable way forward.

It is not. As I have explored in the various essays I’ve been writing over the past two weeks, it is time for the U.N. Security Council as a whole to grab back the responsibility for leading this important challenge in global affairs that it ceded to Washington several decades ago. Yes, I fully realize that Washington’s possession of a veto over UNSC decisionmaking is a considerable obstacle; and it will take wiser (and more powerful) heads than mine to figure out how to defang that threat. But I believe that in today’s world, that can be done.

My intention here is simply to spell out in a bit more detail than previously the series of steps the UNSC could and should take, very speedily once the U.S. veto has been defanged, to bring a decisive end to the ungodly turmoil that’s engulfing Gaza and-equally importantly-to pursue a clear and principled diplomatic path toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all… So that Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians, Jordanians, and the other peoples of West Asia can all turn their considerable skills and energies back to healing their societies’ many wounds and building better futures for their peoples.

After all, there is nothing written on tablets of stone that states that these peoples have to live in a state of unresolved conflict for ever and ever. The only interests that get served if that happens are those of the shareholders of military companies, certainly not those of any divine being whom I would ever want to worship…

So how might the U.N. succeed in a diplomatic quest that all the might of the American empire was unable (or more accurately, unwilling) to crack?

Here are the six steps I propose. My explanation follows:

Step 1:

This is by far the biggest and will need quite a lot of preparation, since the UNSC resolution or resolutions that comprise it should also provide clear guidelines and timetables for what happens in the five steps that follow.

Step 1 consists of three major actions:

  1. A UNSC resolution mandating an immediate ceasefire in place in Gaza, along with a timetable (maybe 2–3 weeks?) for a speedy disengagement of forces to follow, at Step 4. This resolution would also need to establish a trusted, UN-administered monitoring mechanism. Luckily the UN does already have the skeleton of a “Truce Supervision Organization” in place in Jerusalem, tasked with supervising the still-in-place 1949 Armistice Agreement. The new ceasefire resolution should also specify the further diplomatic/political program of which it is a part.
  2. A UNSC resolution, which could be separate or part of the same ceasefire resolution, that spells out the urgency of attaining full implementation on all remaining fronts of previous UNSC resolutions 242 and 338, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from (all) lands occupied in 1967 on the basis of an exchange of land for full peace and recognition, and the establishment in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza that Israel occupied in 1967 of a fully independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem; that underlines the concern of the UNSC for all the losses suffered by the peoples of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank since 1967 and especially since October 7, 2023; and calls for the urgent release of all hostages and all political prisoners.
  3. The formation by the UNSC of an authoritative, P5-dominated standing committee reporting directly to the Secretary-General, that will supervise the full implementation of the other two resolutions. (Previous UN envoys working on this file who have operated as individuals, like Folke Bernadotte or Gunnar Jarring, did not have the heft they needed to be effective.)

Step 2:

This step sees these two actions:

  1. The UN-mandated ceasefire-in-place in Gaza goes into place, with full compliance by all parties fighting in Gaza, and the agreed monitoring mechanism for it is activated.
  2. The UN dispatches a massive humanitarian mission to Gaza. (It has an agreed policing component within it.) UN-OCHA should plan to deploy this humanitarian mission both by sea through a rehabbed Gaza Port and by land, through Egypt.

Step 3:

This step has two actions, undertaken by Hamas and its allies:

  1. Hamas and its allies release all the non-combatant and foreign-national hostages whom they hold and provide clear information about the status of all the combatant hostages whom they hold.
  2. Hamas issues a clear, authoritative statement of support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel, and for an effective, fair, and forward-looking form of intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

Step 4:

This step sees three actions, undertaken almost simultaneously:

  1. The massive U.N. humanitarian mission arrives, and starts its work.
  2. All the fighting forces in Gaza start the disengagement process that was mandated in Step 1, under the supervision of UNTSO or whatever other UN monitoring force has been established by the UNSC. Under this disengagement, the Israeli forces withdraw to the east (southeast) of the 1949 Armistice Line and the Palestinian fighting forces withdraw to another country (perhaps Algeria?)
  3. The UNSC declares that Israel’s occupation of Gaza is now over and Israel has no further rights or responsibilities over the population, territory, or borders of Gaza, except its own responsibility for its side of the land border.

Step 5:

Only one action: The completion of a total exchange of all hostages and political prisoners between the parties, with the destination of the Palestinian political prisoners having been previously agreed.

Step 6:

These two actions:

  1. Certification by the Secretary-General or the Standing Committee that the disengagement of forces in Gaza is complete.
  2. Activation by UNTSO or an UNTSO-like body of a monitoring force throughout the whole of the occupied West Bank.

Actually, I can think of two other actions that ought to be included at Step 6, but I don’t want to completely re-do my “data-visualization table” at this point. One would be the UN’s convening of a big international conference to make the plan for the speedy final implementation of resolutions 242 and 338-which would include the final satisfaction through actual return or compensation of the Palestinian refugees’ long-recognized Right of Return. (That conference is on the top yellow card on the right on my table.)

The other action would be formulation of an urgent international plan for the rebuilding of Gaza and the building of a secure link between Gaza and the West Bank (as had been envisioned to some degree in the Bush II administration’s 2005 “Agreement on Movement and Access”, but never implemented… )

Anyway, there is a plan for you-or, for Antonio Guterres, though maybe he already has one that is better than this. Let’s hope so!

I guess my main point in working on this project has to demonstrate to people that this is a conflict that with goodwill and determination on the part of the Global Majority can definitely be resolved in a way that is sufficiently fair and forward-looking that it can build a sustainable and secure future for all the peoples of West Asia. They do not have to be locked into conflict and fear for ever and ever and ever. But too many people in the “White” world have succumbed over the decades to the fatalism that “this is an intractable conflict” or whatever. It is not.

Please, tell me what you think of this plan. And if you like the idea of it-the idea that the United Nations can indeed find a solution to this conflict and anyway should rightfully be the body that’s in charge of this diplomacy-then please share this idea as widely as you can.

Originally published at https://globalities.org on November 10, 2023.

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Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, w/ some focus on West Asia. Pres., Just World Educational. Writes at Globalities.org.